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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The King of Fruits

Remember that zany post of mine about dates and figs that I posted to the "Underappreciated Produce" section of David's blog a month or so ago? Well, it turns out that I had such a good time writing it that I feel like doing it again, though this time for the benefit of my own paltry readership rather than his. Thus, I hereby proclaim that it would be acceptable if you were to consider the aforementioned DFF post as the preface to my very own food column. Like Undeployed, I am motivated in part by a desire to enlighten the reader about the nature of certain foods that he or she should probably be eating more of; however, I hope that it also serves to help me deepen my appreciation of Korean cuisine (or rather my nearly-veganified version of it) by giving me an avenue through/by which to explain (/gloat about) various dishes to the unfortunately uninitiated.

Now all the column needs is a name. Preferably something clever, but in a joke-that-I-know-no-one-else-will-be-amused-by sort of way. Alliteration is a must, as are big words with the parts of speech changed. Perhaps it should also reflect my continually deeping admiration for and obsession with both the Korean language and Korean cuisine. Also, a hyphen. Distinctive Mike style.

Can it be done?

Ah-ha! Got it.

Mat-nan (맛난) Masticatables. (Which means delicious things you can chew).

Fits like a well-worn pair of glittens. Nice.

And now for the first post-preface/official installment, inspired by a genuinely life-altering experience during my coupon-induced exotic food court gorge-athon in Kuala Lumpur a few days back:

"The King of Fruits"

From 맛난 Masticatables

Riddle me this: what's spikier than a medieval weapon, deadlier than sharks and lightning combined (unverified but not implausible statistic), trickier to open than a land mine, stinkier than a newborn, more fetus-shaped than a fetus, and not allowed on Singapore's light rail and bus systems? If you think the answer is the creature from Eraserhead, nice try, but no. It's the Durio kutejensis, more commonly known as the Durian, most commonly known as the rankest fruit on earth. I've heard the experience of eating one likened to having strawberry ice cream in a public restroom, and, having savored the succulent beast on a few occasions now, I can't disagree. And yet there's something about this freakish fruit that makes it lovable, some redeeming qualities that I can no longer go untouted. Though it will be tough to say anything about the Durian that hasn't already been said about a pair of socks shoved into a banana-lime snotshake and left to its own devices in the hot sun for a month, I will do my best to salvage this royal angiosperm's reputation.

1) The creaminess. You know how you can take whipped cream and add it to something like, say, yogurt, in order to make it all nice and fluffy and supple? Well, have you ever wondered what would happen if you used whipped cream to achieve the same effect on another tub of whipped cream? If you had the guts to try the experiment and the equipment to measure the fluffscosity of the resulting squared dairy product, you would still find it lacking in comparison to a wad of Durian goop. (This is an especially important characterstic for who don't or can't consume milk products).

2) The versatility. The Durian resembles David Beckham in that, for him, impossible is nothing. Just like whipped cream and ice cream, even sloppy and indiscriminately slathered Durian will enhance most any dish. I recently encountered it inside of Japanese mochi; at the same store (Durian 24 or something like that), it was also being used as crepe filling, cake cream, tart custard, and in milkshakes. My mochi were so good that I actively sought out another vegan Durian dish: Cendol, the Malaysian rendition of shaved ice, with some sweet beans and jellyish cilia and Durian cream on top. Imagine what else you could do with it. Pies and brownies a la Durian. Durian truffles. Durian donut frosting. If I ever get married, you can be sure that all the cake's many layers will be separated by a nice thick barrier of Durian ooze.

3) The fight. The thick, spiky Durian husk is clearly nature's way of protecting the vulnerable, oh-so-edible fluff within. Thus, the act of storming the Durian's castle brings us back to one of the primordial - nay, perennial - themes of human existence: the struggle for survival amid the perils of nature. You will understand this the moment you see, as I have,

From 맛난 Masticatables

a tiny Thai woman armed with a cleaver the size of her arm go one-on-one with the fiend, using all her strength to drive the armament deep into its thorny hide, then twisting it around, pulling back, and going at it again. A battle fiercer by far than my namesake's biblical duel with Lucifer himself! It may take up to 30 minutes for the unskilled to emerge victorious, dripping in sweat, with scars on his hands and chest to seal the contest forever in his memory. Compare this to the bland monotony of standing at the kitchen island, wearing an apron and a hair net and wielding naught but a whisk, standing stooped over a bowl of whipping cream and hoping that, joy of joys, it will become a bit poofy sooner or later. (Though to be fair I have to admit that there is something charming about churning ice cream, especially if you have one of those old wooden ice cream buckets with a creaky metal crank.)

4) The taste. It's not the same as the smell. It's a little sour, and a little pungent, but sweet at the same time. Somewhat like certain cheeses. Which leads me to:

5) The philosophicality. The Durian poses, represents, instantiates, or deconstructs numerous dilemmas, concepts, and fundamental questions and could probably serve as a valuable teaching tool in Phil 101 classes. EG:

5a) Essence: Is the essence of Durian to be creamy or to be thorny? It appears that nothing can be both, and yet it is. Do we have to give up on Aristotelian logic if we admit that it is both A and Not A at the same time?

From 맛난 Masticatables

5b) Equality: If I have 2 Durians, and you have none, am I morally obligated to give you one?

5c) Induction: Every Durian I have ever opened has had several pouches of oh-so-nice gunk inside. But what justifies my belief that all of them do? Can I really be certain?

5d) Theodicy/Liebnez's Best-world hypothesis: Why would an omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibelevolent creator make such a desirable fruit so difficult to get into?

5e) Evolution: How do we reconcile the concept of "survival of the fittest" with the continued existence of such a monstrosity?

5f) Zen: If a Durian on a tree is reeking, but nobody is around to smell it, is it really there?

5g) Linguistics: How does the word "Durian" affect our perception of the object? If we called it "Rose," would it smell different?

5h) Kafka: Joseph wakes up one morning to find out that he has become a Durian. WTF?

5i) Consciousness: Is the Durian conscious? Does it have a self? Could it be engineered to pass the Turing test, and if so, what would that tell us?

5j) Other minds: What can we know about an entity so definitively other? Is there such a thing as the experience of being a Durian? Does our being human limit our ability to know anything about said experience?

5k) Existentialism: Imagine that someone were condemned by the gods to spend his entire life opening Durians with his bare hands. His fingernails are split, his fingertips raw, his knuckles rheumatic; the bloody wounds on his hands never have time to heal, his joints are stuck in one position for eternity, and his overworked muscles never have a moment's respite, except for that all-too-brief instant when the Durian finally pops open, the flesh is visible, and the gods themselves snatch it away and replace the empty Durian with a new one. This is a metaphor for your life. Is it worth it?

I could go on, but, somehow, I don't feel like writing anymore. I don't see the point. Goodnight, or whatever.


Laura said...

I cannot believe you named this the king of all fruit!! I detest it!! In english we call it Jackfruit, but I was first introduced to it in east africa where we call it Finesi in Swahili.

I'll agree with you in the fact that it is the craziest looking thing in the world. Have you ever seen it growing naturally?? IT HANGS FROM TREES!! It pretty much punches every law of physics in the face. I was always afraid that one was going to fall on my head while I was walking in the wilds of Uganda, where they seem to grow everywhere.

But I can't believe you think it is tasty!! I've heard it compared to starbursts before, but to me it tastes like something crawled inside of it and died- and it smells even worse!! The have outlawed it in hotels in Uganda and Kenya based on the smell alone.

thesnowleopard said...

This might be your best post yet mike. And as for item 5g, having no experience with Durians, my mind associates it with the most similar word it can find in my vocabulary, Duran-Duran, which evokes imagery of naked Jane Fonda on a spaceship and Pygar the angel-winged alien from Barbarella.

Mike said...

Laura, your comment reminds me of yet another of this fiendish fruit's qualities: tricksiness. I say this because the durian does indeed look just like a jackfruit from the outside: spiky and massive. However, having seen them both cut wide open, I can tell you that they're actually two different things. The Durian has these big chipmunk-sized clumps of greenish goop with large seeds in the middle; the jackfruit has smaller, fleshier yellow clumps inside that look almost like flower petals or something. I find jackfruit stinky much like Durian (though oddly enough most others I have discussed this topic with disagree) and love it nonetheless. I hear it's super-healthy. And it makes awesome chips, which I found in Vietnam and India. Maybe it merits its own Masticatables post. In your honor.

Chris, your comment reveals that there is indeed a generation gap between us. I have no idea WTF you're talking about.

BadgerBear said...

Mike, you've stolen my heart with your fruity philosophicality. Great post.

Mike said...

Did you just call me fruity?

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